Many Buffalo Bills fans were talking division championship and a playoff berth after the first six games of the 2008 season.
However, praise turned to criticism and doubt as to whether head coach Dick Jauron was going to be the head coach after the end of the season as the Bills crashed and burned to a final record of 7-9. Will the Buffalo Bills circle the wagons in 2009 to finish with a winning record and possibly a playoff berth?
Predictions, like meteorologists, are more often than not wrong. Yet football fans of all teams and football "experts" always engage in them, ranging from a solitary game to the entire season. Why do we fans do this?
Fans of any sport, including football, love to talk about the game and how things will progress. It is simply a part of fan hood, and no fan is immune, myself included.
So what are some realistic expectations for the Buffalo Bills in 2009? The only realistic expectations are that the Bills will finish somewhere in between 0-16 and 19-0. I can offer informed expectations based upon how the Bills performed last season and how the off-season progressed.
One of the major problems of last season was the Bills' inability to handle 3-4 defenses which led the Bills to an 0-6 record against the rest of AFC East who all run that style of defense.
This motivated the Bills to revamp the interior of the offensive line, developing a more physical interior that should not continually get pushed around by the large nose tackles of 3-4 defenses.
The Bills coaching staff and front office signed center/guard Geoff Hangartner, previously of the Carolina Panthers, to replace center Melvin Fowler and center/ guard Duke Preston who were continually pushed around by nose tackles like New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork, New York Jets' Kris Jenkins, and Miami Dolphins' Jason Ferguson.
Then in the draft, they drafted guard/center Eric Wood and then guard/tackle Andy Levitre.
Wood and Levitre gained reputations in college of being nasty and finishers. Last season the Bills lacked any sort of physicality in the run game, and these two should provide a serious upgrade.
Also on the offensive side of the ball, the Bills signed wide receiver Terrel Owens to a one-year contract, hoping that the trend of him playing his best football in the first season with a new team will continue. For years the Bills have been searching for a threat on the other side of the field from Lee Evans and Owens is that threat.
Also, rookie tight end Shawn Nelson could have a positive impact in the passing game during the season. Reports out of rookie mini-camp are verifying his potential and his status as a steal in the fourth round.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills are looking to create more havoc in the passing game with the additions of defensive end Aaron Maybin and safety Jairus Byrd. Maybin was brought in to upgrade the pass rush, and his explosive first step should help.
Byrd was a ball-hawk in college, with 17 interceptions and 53 pass breakups in three years. The safety position has been lacking a playmaker and Byrd should change that.
So what does all this mean for the 2009 edition of the Buffalo Bills? On paper, they have made improvements at a number of positions. However, most of those improvements are made by rookies. There will be a learning curve that will hopefully be short.
The potential is there for a winning record and a playoff berth, but I am not sure how likely that scenario is.
In the division, the Miami Dolphins could very well fall back after a very surprising season last year, and the New York Jets are going to be starting a quarterback without very much (or no) experience at the pro level. The Bills should not get shut out by the AFC East again this season.
The Bills are also beneficiaries of starting the season against the New England Patriots. This means that the Patriots will not have any game film on what the Bills can and will do on either side of the ball. The Bills traditionally play the Patriots very well in the first week of the NFL season.
The Bills are facing a very tough schedule, but the potential is there for them to do well. It depends on the offensive line coming together in its new form and if the Bills' pass rush has improved. If the offensive line comes together quickly and the new acquisitions perform as expected, expect the Bills offense to be very potent.
The flip side is also true, however. If the line does not gel quickly, expect the offense to be rocky at best until the line comes together.
The defense could possibly cover for the offense at points with an upgraded pass rush and another play-maker in the secondary to go with second-year corner-back Leodis McKelvin who showed that throwing in his direction is dangerous at best.